I’m Divorcing… for the Third Time

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If you have read my last post, I’m sure two things immediately come to mind:

  1. It was written over a year ago.
  2. It is great advice for couples.

Yes, I haven’t posted for over a year. I really don’t get a chance to post to the blog often, and also mainly due to the fact that in April of last year (2014) I began to see my Husband and I pulling away much more than usual and given the last post being great advice for couples, I felt awkward about saying anything to anyone (especially on my blog) while going through such a hard time. After being laid off from my job in CA in May and immediately finding a new job in CA, he and I spent some time in Cancun, Mexico rekindling some old passions.Robert Conway and Jenn Mathews But sadly, it was a complete bust – it was clear to me that he was not happy with me. The trip was full of disappointments, anger, and frustration. After our trip he returned to our place in Seattle to pick up his son, and bring him to CA to spend with me for a couple of weeks. I had asked him to cancel their flights (especially since his Father was very ill, and he needed to be with him), but he insisted on flying down.

On July 4th (3 days after they had arrived) he had gotten very angry during one of our usual bike rides over a petty remark on my part, and after quite a flow of anger and resentment over our years together he said he wanted to Divorce. That moment hit me like a ton of bricks. We had both said it many times during our marriage to one another, myself even to the point where I took a job in San Francisco, CA and he stayed in Seattle for 2 years, but I wasn’t prepared for the actual straw that broke the Camel’s back that would lead him to arrive to the absolute decision that day.

As we rode back to the house from our 20 miles out on bikes along the San Francisco Bay, my head was racing. I wasn’t focusing with tears in my eyes and hit a curb and plummeted to the ground. I just laid there not wanting to move. After he encouraged me to go on, I rode the rest of the 20 miles back with a bum arm and my head teaming with thoughts of our life, love, and unhappiness filling my head.

When we arrived back at the house, I told him to book a flight for him and his son to go back to Seattle the next day. I couldn’t bear for them to stay the next week with knowing it was over. I hugged my step-son and told him I was sorry he wouldn’t get to go to NASA the next day, and told him one last time that I loved him and cared about him. We went from ignoring each other to occasional outbursts of frustration until he gathered his son and while heading out the door to watch the fire works said to me “Are you coming?”. My reply was “No” with a hint of confusion as to why he would even ask.

The next morning we went to breakfast, and one last time I picked up the bill for all three of us (no, he didn’t reach for the bill or offer to pay), then I dropped them off at the airport. My step-son got out of the car and hugged me. He hesitated closing the door (a vision in my head I will never forget) and when his Father yelled “Let’s go” he looked at me one last time and hesitantly closed the door. That was the last time I was to ever see him.

Hi Father had gotten better and worse throughout the following weeks and I finally made the move to Seattle to attempt to make the marriage work. I tried calling him, but he refused to talk to me for months, until finally in October there was a text from him with a “peace offering”. We had gone back and forth talking, not talking, yelling, being nice, talking, not talking. With us ending in not talking now after my Family was drug into it and  my relationship with my Brother now torn apart.

Divorce is ugly. Everyone will tell you that. Whether they have been through it, know someone that has, or have no experience with it whatsoever – every body knows how hard it is. Even after going through Divorce twice before, and as much as I wanted to several times with this one before, it was still very difficult. I am, however, very appreciative of my past experiences.  From the legalities of Divorce to the time and steps it takes for me to be able to heal emotionally, my experience has left it a bit easier to bear.

Rob ConwayWe met when my kids were in Daycare. My oldest was just 3 years old, and he was the Kindergarten teacher there. The first day we had a lengthy conversation while I was picking up my kids after work, he mentioned Peace Corp and Africa. Despite another teacher mentioning his girlfriend during the same conversation, whom he lived with at the time, we both actively pursued each other. He proceeded to place me on a pedastal. From moments of looking around a restaurant and saying to me “You are the most beautiful woman in the room.” To writing me emails and handwritten letters detailing his desire for me. He even acted out the romantic scene of pebbles on my window in the middle of the night. But in-between the moments of romantic and obsession, there were times I was stood up for dates, and overnights cut short so he could be with another woman. We were later pulled apart while he moved to NY to pursue his Masters degree for 5 years, and I had met, married, and then Divorced another. His girlfriend he lived with went to NY with him and while he proceeded to repeat his lustful pattern of behavior with many women there, she eventually married him and they had a son together.

After he moved back to Seattle we had connected again. I was living alone with my two kids very happily, and he was still married with his son. I was placed back up on that pedestal with emails, text messages, and hand written letters with details of the love and passion he felt for me. I craved and desired the attention after a loveless marriage and wishy-washy divorce. While I was financially stable with a condo in a nice neighborhood and good career, he provided me with everything I craved emotionally.

As time went by and his divorce from his wife finalized, we married. Then down from the pedestal I fell. Soon I became the the tossed aside wife that his wife was before and he lusted for another woman to worship. Anger and frustration grew over his working until 10pm during the week and my draining the finances for a business that wasn’t going to work (of course it’s more complicated than that, but those were the two biggest issues we had with one another). I eventually accepted a position in CA after he insisted I get a job, leaving him with my two kids to finish out the 2 months of school. He resented me for leaving, and especially leaving him with 2 fighting teenagers that weren’t his own. We went through the cycle of wanting to divorce to making up in a few months and eventually worked to make a long distance relationship successful. At times I was very proud at how healthy our relationship was despite the past issues and distance between us.

But in the end, it was just not meant to be. I could save face and say how horrible he is as a man and a Husband, that I am happy for this divorce, that I am better off, and trash his complete character to make me feel better. But the fact is that I didn’t want the divorce and truthfully wanted so badly to make it work. I cared for him deeply, and his son even more than anything. I found out later that he had cheated on me again, which put the nail in the coffin for me. I still am reluctant about going through with the divorce, but know that there is no way he and I could be together again after so much pain and hurt. I would never trust what he (and sadly any man) would say to me to try and build me up. I am sure, in return, that finances and any decision I were to make would be met with anxiety and reluctance on his side because of what I had done to our marriage.

So what I am doing now is accepting the situation and knowing it could not, should not, and will not ever change. Things will never go back to the way they were those first years we were together, no matter how much I wished they could. I fully embrace my life as it is now every day. I am doing things that bring me happiness that I know he would never have approved of. As of this moment I am so happy and fulfilled that my life feels more complete than it has ever before.

I now end each day spending a quiet moment in the evening appreciating 2-3 things that happened throughout my day that I would not have been able to do with him. I am embracing the simple things of getting to be on my own. I have an apartment I absolutely love living in, the companionship of my dog and cat (with the added Hamster I know he wouldn’t have liked), and spend my day with my children outside with our horses.

I date men (outside of my designated booty call) when I have time, but realize, when I do, that I am really not ready. I feel that I am not ready because I enjoy being my own best friend and love the relationship I have with myself. I am hoping that it’s not because I am “ruined” or “damaged” in some way due to my failed three marriages.

I decided it’s time to write about this now because, well, I knew I needed to write about it after my last post on arguing productively, and because the final papers were signed last week which has been a sense of finality for me. I can go days without thinking about him or the marriage without some sort of emotion surfacing. In fact now I go weeks without a thought to it all until I suddenly go “oh yeah…”. I talk about my time while with him without him being mentioned in my stories, and the kids now are truly enjoying being a family of three once again.

Will I get married again? I don’t know.

I want to say “Never again” but I said that the last two divorces and that didn’t hold. It’s kind of like my fear of children. While I am terrified of most, some are OK and some I really adore (like my own). I do know this: I will not allow another man to convince me to change anything about me or my life. I will not allow them to pick me apart or make me feel guilty for mistakes I have made, or decisions I make. I most certainly will not consider anyone but myself and my children when it comes to decisions, and if the man chooses to stick around then it is up to him. While that may not seem fair, unfortunately it is the way I have become. No amount of anger, guilt, or “compromise” from another will sway my decision making or life choices.

At this moment I can’t stress how at peace I am. I almost feel like a broken record, or worry at times that I am saying it so much that I am trying to convince myself that I am happy. But in all honesty things are going very well. If I had one complaint it’s that my car’s check engine light came on today, and money is tight. Oh, and that the movers that brought my stuff up from CA misplaced most of my things and after I did finally get them (from the help of a stranger) I received my jewelry box that was busted open and my Grandmother’s diamonds and jewelry was stolen out of it.

But really – all of that pales to the good that is going on at the moment. I am back riding horses again after 20 years of what I consider “taking a break”. I have lost 40 pounds since the divorce. I am turning my consulting work I have been doing into a full on company complete with business partners and staff. I even have a friend that is buying himself a holistic pet food store (Yeah, a Pet Store) and I am having a lot of fun talking with him about it. Heck, I might even get to work on the website and marketing for it. My relationship with my Daughter is stronger than ever. We talk about life, relationships, friends, and goals. My children and I had a lengthy discussion over the Holidays with them hashing out their issues, and now their relationship has been the best it has ever been (meaning they aren’t trying to kill each other anymore). The horses has allowed us all three to spend time outdoors every day – weekends all day, and weekdays I pick them up after school and spend a couple of hours together. Yup – life is good, and I’m truly enjoying it all!

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When The Argument Serves a Purpose

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I am no therapist, nor am I a subject matter expert by any means. But what I am is a woman that has been married three times, and while I may think I have it figured out now, I’m still growing. The following is simply what I have learned so far about arguing, and what I probably could still learn.

People Argue

First of all – people argue. A couple that doesn’t argue is simply a couple that is either avoiding each other, not in love anymore (going through the motions), or are so emphatically in love and beyond perfect for each other that it is almost sickening (see True Love – Westley and Buttercup). What draws to one another are similarities in interests and personalities, in addition to the differences that we can learn from one another. I know if I dated myself I would drive myself crazy. What I like in a partner are the similarities that are important to me (I have my list) and a few interests and personality traits that offset mine.

 “A healthy argument can clarify each partner’s needs and allow each to maintain his or her own sense of personal integrity within the relationship. In other words, each person can hold on to the qualities which made him or her attractive to the other in the first place. The difference between a happy and an unhappy relationship is often due to how the partners argue.” – Dr. Maynard Brussman

What ‘s important is that the argument maintain a level of respect and achieve an accomplishment. Whether it be a common behavior that might upset the other that is talked out respectfully (no name calling, blaming, demeaning, etc) and the couple both learn from each other moving forward with an actionable plan. The reality of that actually happening is slim to none. In fact the ratio of positive interactions to negative in happy couples is 20 to 1, in conflicted couples is 5 to 1, and in soon-to-divorce couples is .8 to 1. It takes two people to argue, and while one may maintain respectfulness and work towards a goal, the other has to be one the same path in order for the argument to truly be effective.

 

The Relationship Is NOT Doomed

Ironically, as I write this post it is day of my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. I have watched my parents argue through the years – from large arguments (my Father leaving the dinner table to eat in his Den) lasting, at times, for days to bickering over the little things that are over before the rest of the room realizes they are even arguing.

Arguments and disagreements are not necessarily a sign of a failed relationship or that love is fading . They are often just a sign that the partners are expressing their own individuality, and this is healthy. It helps to ask whether the arguments usually lead in a downward spiral toward bitterness and stalemate or whether they lead to better communication and greater intimacy.

– Dr. Maynard Brussman

I have watched my parents go from them not talking for days with obvious anger in their early years to recent slight raised voice and a “That’s enough” from either that stops the other dead in their tracks. Clearly at various points throughout the years my parents have talked things out, come to compromises, worked out what respect is to each other, and now exercise what they have learned. I can only hope that my Husband and I follow down the same path and end up with an understanding for one another and level of respect that only years of listening and compromising can accomplish.

Keys To Constructive Arguing

Combining my experience in failed marriages, working with countless therapists during those marriages, and completing my own research I have gathered a list of ways in which a couple can argue respectfully and constructively.

  • Starting off Calm – before you start addressing your concern with your partner, it is best to ensure that you are calm and your partner is calm. This way you are able to rationally address the situation and your partner will be in the best mood to receive what is about to be said.
  • Take Responsibility – be sure to understand your part in any argument or discussion. Being able to say “Ok, I guess I’m partly responsible.” Or say, “I guess I didn’t help the situation by….” will open the dialogue and set the example that you are both on the same playing field.
  • Don’t Try To Be Right - When we approach an argument with the belief that someone is right and the other is wrong, then the person put in the position of being wrong ends up on the defensive. There is no right or wrong, only understanding and compromise.
  • The Impact on Your Partner - Arguments are usually started because of miss-communication or a simple misunderstanding. Your partner may blame you for starting an argument when that is the last thing you had in mind. Be aware of what your partner is trying to say when they are upset, hurt, or frustrated with you.
  • You Can’t Change The Past –  Although you may feel hurt by something that happened in the past, the only options people have are to work towards the future. Of course, you may want to talk about things which have bothered you in the past, but holding a grudge usually interferes with the productive resolution of current problems. Work on one current problem at a time, not a list of things from the past, and try to discuss the problem while it is relevant.
  • State Your Needs in a Positive Manner -  It is not helpful to criticize the person’s character; this simply puts the other person on the defensive. Labeling the person with words like “crazy,” “immature,” or “slob” does not solve the specific problem you need to address, and it ensures that you will not be heard. These words are only meant to hurt (and it would be better in this case just to say, “Right now I feel like I want to hurt your feelings”). Let your partner know that it is a specific behavior that bothers you, and behaviors can be changed— especially when there is a commitment to the relationship.
  • Effective Communication – Use “I-statements”: when you want to convey how you feel. Take responsibility for your own feelings and assume that your partner is responsible for his or her own. Instead of starting the statement with a finger point and “You…” try expressing how you feel while addressing what it is that your partner can do to help.
  • Take a Time Out – This is something I learned very early on in my first marriage and has stayed with me throughout the years as a very useful tool. When I see the situation getting out of control as anger is building, words are being used to hurt, or even getting physical, it is a good time to take a moment to calm down and come back when you both can be rational and respectful. Calling the time out must be respected and honored, and a time to revisit the conversation should be established so that you both know this won’t be swept under the rug and ignored. If it’s a few minutes, hour, or a day or two – be respectful of each other’s space and time you both need to heal from the argument. When you come back remember to follow the rules of productive arguing and agree on a common goal from the discussion.
Of course expecting that you both follow the guidelines of productive arguing is asking a lot, but getting into the habit of following them as much as possible will allow for a healthier argument and relationship. Remember, no one is perfect and slip ups will happen – they key is to be respectful of one another and agree on what the outcome should be.

Counterproductive Arguing

Just as there is productive means to an argument, there are quite a lot of ways in which an argument can go south very quickly. Understanding the key behaviors than can be counterproductive within yourself can help you on the path to a healthier relationship. Remember to understand these within yourself – not pointing the blame by saying “Oh he does that…” or “That’s her to the T.” If you can recognize in yourself what of the following you have a tendency towards will allow you to live a happier life in general. Not to mention that your partner will appreciate the effort.

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  • Escalating - Moving from the basic issue to questioning your partners personality then question if the relationship is worth it is counterproductive. Trying to gain the upper hand with escalating the argument to a whole new level could only potentially turn the situation into something you could very well regret.
  • Timing - Finding the right time to bring up an issue with your partner is crucial. Choosing to start a discussion while they are watching TV, getting ready for bed, or first getting up in the morning are not optimal times to start up a serious talk. When your partner is ready to engage in a serious discussion you both will benefit.
  • Crucializing - Try not to exaggerate the issue into the relationship as a whole. Saying things like “If you loved me, you would never have done this”. Focus on the discussion at hand and the goal of resolving through respect.
  • Brown Bagging – Maintain focus on the issue at hand without pouring on every past issue ever discussed all at the same time. An overwhelmed person can never fight back effectively and it only distracts from the current issue never really resolving it. Then adding it to the pile of issues to be loaded for next time. You will never get anything resolved, and the end result is just a failed relationship.
  • Asking Why – Simply starting with the word “why” can result in the other person feeling like they are being treated like a child. You are both adults, and therefore should respect one another like adults.
  • Cross Complaining - When your partner brings up an issue, don’t pile on a similar one to theirs. There is no tit for tat, only distracting from the discussion and not resolving the issue.
  • Over-Generalizing – Using words like “never” or “always” only throws your partner into the defensive and will escalate the argument. Be respectful and focus on the issue as it is to be addressed and offer up a solution or compromise.
  • Blaming - Remember it takes two to make a relationship work. Blaming your partner for the failed relationship and never accepting responsibility for your own actions is only going to drive them away.
  • Using Sarcasm – Be aware of the tone of your voice and the words you choose to go with it. Saying things like “Well, lookee here at who’s so perfect all the time!” are only going to put your partner on the defensive and is counterproductive to what you would like to accomplish from the argument.
  • Mind Reading – Telling your partner how they feel is denying them their rights as an equal and will only cause the argument to get worse never resolving anything. Instead focus on how you feel and allow them to express their emotions when they feel they can effectively.
  • Fortune Telling – Similar to mind reading fortune telling is telling your partner that they are going to do something before they have had a chance to do it. Anything from making another mistake, saying something in the near or distant future, or telling them they are going to react a certain way only escalates the argument and distracts from the purpose of the discussion.
  • Pulling Rank – Treat your partner as an equal. Telling them that because you do more around the house, or make more money only puts them in a position below you. You are both adults and equal partners in this relationship.
  • Not Listening – Pay attention and fully understand what it is your partner is trying to tell you is important. Only picking up on part of the conversation and throwing it in their face, pretending to read or watch TV, or just walking out of the house when an issue is brought up only leave the problem unresolved.
  • Giving Advice – Trying to be helpful and offering up advice when your partner brings up an issue only demeans what it is your partner is really trying to say. Instead listen and absorb as much as you can with understanding.
  • Labeling - Using words  like “neurotic,” “alcoholic,” “immature,” or “paranoid” to label your partner are only going to put them on the defensive. Instead try addressing the issue as it is rather than labeling them.
  • Avoiding Responsibility – Accept your responsibility in the issue that is brought up. Dismissing the discussion by saying “I forgot” or “I must have had too much to drink” is only going to stop the argument before anything is resolved.
  • Playing the Martyr – “You’re right, honey, I guess there really is no hope for me.” How can your partner respond to that? Or pretending to be sick until your partner’s behavior changes— and blaming your illness on your partner is only going to distract from the issue. Focus on what they are saying and work together to resolve it.
  • Rejecting Compromise – In the game of arguing there is no real true winner. Instead of sticking to your guns and refusing to compromise, try listening and compromise as a couple.

The Four Horsemen

four horsemen blog pic 3Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse an Marital Meltdown identifies four main “toxic behaviors” which contribute directly to couples feeling disconnected, isolated and distant from each other. When couples have a high frequency of these toxic behaviors, isolation and loneliness increases. These “cascades of isolation and loneliness”  increases the likelihood of marital meltdown and contribute strongly to the likelihood of divorce.

 

  1. Criticism - When you criticize your partner you are basically implying that there is something wrong with them. You take a complaint too far. It’s one thing to point out a specific behavior that is bothering you. It’s another thing to generalize your complaint to include aspects of your partner’s person. Instead focus on the issue itself and leave your partner out of it. Even if it is something they said or did – understand it was most likely not done intentionally and can be addressed respectfully.
  2. Defensiveness - When you attempt to defend yourself from a perceived attack with a counter complaint you are being defensive.  Sometimes people think defensiveness is warranted because “the other person started it” by using a harsh attack. Actually, defensiveness is just another way to shift the blame onto one’s partner. Defensiveness is about offering excuses in order to avoid responsibility.Instead try listening to what your partner is trying to say. If you feel you are starting to get on the defensive track, then ask for a time out and let them know you will be ready to openly discuss it in an hour or so. Then be ready to really own what it is that is being addressed and discuss it in a rational manner.
  3. Contempt - Contempt is any statement or nonverbal behavior that puts yourself on a higher ground than your partner. This is the worst of the Horseman because it’s hard to work through a problem when the only vibe you’re getting from you’re partner is that they are disgusted with you. Or when you’re convinced your partner is an idiot (as the one showing disgust). Contempt usually comes from a “holier than thou” place. Try focusing on your tone and choice of words while discussing the issue with your partner. Treat them as an equal and work together towards resolution.
  4. Stonewalling - Stonewalling happens when the listener withdraws from the conversation. After several rounds of criticism, contempt, and defensiveness, stonewalling can come into play. This happens when one partner tunes out. This partner will stop talking, look away, and even stay very still. This usually means that the partner is overwhelmed with the negativity and doesn’t know any other way to soothe. Stonewalling doesn’t work in relationships because it ends the conversation before the couple are able to navigate their way through the conflict. If you feel overwhelmed try asking for a time out, or simply let your partner know that you have reached your limit. Explain that the negativity is more than you can handle and you either need a break, or would benefit from a more productful means of discussing the issue.

In watching the video I see some of my past and even current behaviors in how I argue with my Husband. See if you can recognize the behavior in yourself.

 

The Ability To Argue

Some people are simply just unable to argue. As the Dr. Maynard Brusman put it:

 Some people are unable to argue because they feel that their underlying anger, which can get triggered during an argument, will go out of control . Others find it difficult to argue since they feel inadequate within the relationship. Some were exposed to bitter arguments as they grew up so that they don’t want to repeat the pattern of their unhappy parents during their own adulthood. When people just hate to argue, for whatever reason, they frequently make up prematurely without resolving the issue in order to avoid conflict. Or they may resort to fighting unfairly to gain power over and distance themselves from their partner instead of coming to a compromise and strengthening their commitment to the relationship. When goodwill and trust are damaged, the probability of using dirty fighting techniques increases. If a relationship reaches the point where arguments are frequent and damaging, the couple probably needs to make a commitment to resolve the problem and to try more productive methods of relating on difficult topics. – Dr. Maynard Brussman

Seeking a counselor or therapist to help you through relationship therapy, you and your partner can focus in part on establishing new communication patterns, aims to facilitate the goal of resolving the issue.

I have been through arguments that have both resolved effectively and respectfully and ones that have escalated beyond control. Now that I am older (and getting wiser) I now feel I have a good sense of the steps I should be taking to resolve an issue with my Husband. If you feel that there is no resolution, or that your not arguing effectively, it is always good to seek out a professional to aid in your resolution. In the meantime, I hope this was helpful in your journey to be a more productful arguer. Feel free to share your experience, or anything you would like to add in the comments below.

Resources (because there’s no way I could have come up with all of this on my own):

Arguing With Your Partner – Ways to Lose and Ways to Win – Dr. Maynard Brusman

Destructive Arguing – Marriage and Family Clinic

Gottman Couples & Marriage Therapy